Owning Courage

In the comments to my post gloating about Iraqi democracy, Josh copies a comment reiterating that we Americans can’t gloat about Iraqi democracy because they did not vote to enable us to gloat. The key line of that comment was “You do not own their courage.”

I would agree that we who favored liberating Iraq and attempting to create democracy there do not own their courage. But, you should also remember that you who opposed this action do not own the terrorism they and we faced. Whenever anti-war folks argue that we are provoking terrorism or whenever people like Michael Moore argue that the terrorists are freedom fighters, they should remember that they don’t own the terrorism and that making such statements only encourages more.

15 Responses to Owning Courage

  1. hey alex says:

    you are doing me a disservice by lumping me in with the ‘terrorists are freedom fighters’ brigade. i never said this.

    terrorists are monsters. monsters. and you will be unable to find my saying anything else in your blog or mail archives. they are, indeed, one of the worst things in the world.

    what i did say is that the growth of murderous, cancerous islamic terrorist action against and hatred of the united states is a direct result of our actions outside our borders. if we stopped acting like an empire, we wouldn’t have the problems of an empire.

  2. You are claiming the terrorists are attacking us because we are acting like an empire rather than e.g. because we do not worship Allah.

    As I said before… if we don’t own their courage, y certainly don’t own their terrorism.

  3. ooghe says:

    howdy, alex

    Sorry it’s been awhile since my last post, and in the interim I see a number of misperceptions have accrued, which I’ll endeavour to set straight.

    First though, I’d like to say that I am genuinely glad to see that there are Iraqis voting, and never wished (nor predicted) otherwise. as I said earlier, I point out Bush’s mistakes where he makes them not to villify the man, but because this is an incredibly fluid moment in history and the lack of comprehension and nuance which the Bush team had, in the first term, demonstrated in their handling of Iraq is going to lead to huge problems for Americans, and ultimately everybody else, on down the line. I see glimmerings of self-awareness in US conduct this term, *maybe*, but exactly how and how much it will matter is what we have yet to see.

    First off, let me unravel some knots in this ‘gloat’ post (which i think we all saw coming a miiiiiiiile away…)

    “We got rid of Saddam”

    -never disputed that the invasion resulted in Saddam being deposed.

    “Democracy is now in place in Afghanistan”,

    -US went into Afghanistan post 9/11. this was Well-done (except for the ‘proxy attack’ on Tora Bora)

    “the Ukraine” (a.k.a. screwin’ putin)

    -how this was related to removing Saddam I have no idea. How this was related to *any* US act, other than that we made some official statements, I have no idea- yet I see this country slipping into your regular roster of Bush accomplishments. If I were going to attribute this to some group other than the Ukrainians themselves, it would be the EU which has been much more involved in that country than the US. As a sidenote, I would observe that there was once upon a time when our best and brightest rebuilt Russia from scratch, congratulated themselves on their grasp of liberal democracy, and yet here we are in 2005 tauting ‘screwing Putin’ as the inspirational triumph from that region.

    “and Iraq. The terrorists have suffered a MAJOR blow on their own terms”

    -I am happy if this election will embolden the new iraqi army to take matters in their own hands. the CIA recently issued a report about the lawlessness in unpacified provinces providing the soft terrain where jihadism could flourish. I don’t think this level of threat existed in Iraq prior to Saddam being removed, because I don’t think paranoid thugs obsessed with their self preservation cotton to shadowy international terror groups in their backyards unless they can control them.

    The argument for invading Iraq was WMD, which *is* a serious threat- but it was simply flat out wrong in the case of Iraq. This may speak to a need to change the system, but saying that by going from a state of affairs where we were being inconvenienced to one in which there are demonstrably terror-friendly conditions is
    not an improvement in general security, not to realists at least.

    But I gather you are less of a realist, and I think you were speaking more truly to your beliefs when you said ‘damn the torpedoes of whether or not the governments will be more or less friendly’. I am sympathetic to that very American, very Wilsonian, and very neo-conservative point of view. I suspect this thinking is also a little bit your attitude towards whether or not the US fiscally survives this policy as well.

    I agree with you that the dollar is not immediately ‘in crisis’, but I think that the system whereby the world invests in covering US debt because it guarantees security in a way the world accepts is very open to question right now. Jihadism simply is not and never will be perceived as a threat comparable to the Soviet Union, in which the world system of governance, and even the inhabitability of the globe was at risk. On top of that, the problem is that to the rest of the world, the Wilsonian intentions of neo-conservative ideologues, look and sound remarkably like the justifications of the Soviet Union to the extent that American exceptionalism entitles us to export ourselves to other countries militarily.

    The problem, I think, with the neo-conservative outlook is that it is myopic. The underlying mythology is that the world is the way it is because after the 1960’s it never occured to anyone to just get past all the shrill left-wing naysaying and roll-up the sleeves and get to it. In this view, institutions like the UN are just evidence of static European nincompoopery, rather than the expression of cultural memory of a horrible war. American exceptionalism is a kind of new nationalism. It doesn’t mean that the people championing it are evil, but neither were many 19th century imperialists. Clearly, they had the civilized methods, and parts of the world that had never been governed or had hospitals were better off for having been ruled by Europeans, who were doing it for God and science. And if morality and self-interest are aligned, so much the better.

    No one is born wanting to be a torturer, or to propagandize to people so they’ll politically cooperate, or inflict massive amounts of violence and rationalize it away- these are just the terms of wielding power and believing you are right. People who have been in combat, I think, tend to understand that viscerally, whereas most of the architects of the Iraq policy only understand power in a detached machiavellian sense (Cheney compared power to possessing a medicine ball). This is why the statement “but I can imagine a program of propaganda, PR, advertising, branding etc that might be more effective than the troops doing liberating and holding local elections” in the context of constructing jeffersonian democracy can be uttered without a hint of irony.

    Another interesting read is the National Intelligence Council’s “2020 report”.

    Much of it is what you’d expect, and there’s nothing earth shattering in it, but there is a vague sense that the US is not exactly going to be a superpower in 2020 at this rate. Whether or not the period of US hegemony ends in 2020 or sooner than that or later than that, it is definitely the case that once anyone in charge accepts that they are administering an empire- the clock starts ticking to the point where that is no longer the case. In theory, I guess this is what the neo-con ideal would be anyway, since the US model of liberal democracy will someday be exported to everywhere in the world thus negating the need for any ‘liberating empires’. I just hope that when that happens, democratic process and civil war are at the opposite ends of human tendencies. If Iraq can figure it out, we can at least presume that it won’t take a civilization longer than 6,000 years to get there.

  4. http://www.juancole.com/2005/02/goldberg-v.html

    yooooo alex read it all. i am offering the same challenge to you: if you are/were so concerned about the iraqi threat, why did you not enlist? joe eros, jon’s college roommate and, like you, a moderately well-off, very smart guy who is completely confused about what exactly he is going to do with his life, enlisted and went to iraq. he believed in the action. he may still! why didn’t you enlist, alex?

    there are several possible answers: 1) elitism 2) cowardice.

    elitism, i’m fine with. go ahead and admit it. some men are better at fighting and some men are idea men. ok, you’re an idea man and your calling is to inspire other men to rally to your ideas. admit this.

    cowardice is a much harder thing to admit.

  5. before it was a little snide, but now i really am curious. you have said, over and over again, that radical violent islamism is the worst thing in the world, and worth any number of acts of questionable morality to stop.

    if you really believed this, and believed that it was worth the lives of your fellow americans, and that the alternative was a mushroom cloud in manhattan or the destruction of israel or whatthefuckever, then you should have done something above and beyond armchair punditry to do something about it.

    you believed in going to war. i believed in not going to war. i went and marched and gave money to moveon and voted for howard dean. you voted for bush, you may have given money to a pro-war 501(c)3, but did you march? did you actively work in more ways than simply writing and talking to support the ideology behind this country’s policy? did you, say, pay more taxes? to support the war in iraq?

    i suspect you didn’t. and that, my friend, makes you a big fat hypocrite.

  6. Josh no doubt it felt good marching, giving money to moveon, voting for howard dean, violating agreements, and messing up long term friendships.

    On the other hand, my side liberated 60 million people from the likes of Saddam and the Taliban
    and gave them democracy.

    What was was it you actually accomplished in all your activity?

    You might want to read this post from lefty blogger Marc Cooper
    So what is the ideology of the activist left (and by that we mean the global justice, peace, media democracy, community organizing, financial populist and green movements)? Is the activist left just an inchoate “post-ideological” mass of do-gooders, pragmatists and puppeteers? No. The young troublemakers of today do have an ideology and it is as deeply felt and intellectually totalizing as any of the great belief systems of yore. The cadres who populate those endless meetings, who bang the drum, who lead the “trainings” and paint the puppets, do indeed have a creed. They are activistists.

    That’s right, activistists. This brave new ideology combines the political illiteracy of hypermediated American culture with all the moral zeal of a 19th-century temperance crusade. In this worldview, all roads lead to more activism and more activists. And the one who acts is righteous. The activistists seem to borrow their philosophy from the factory boss in a Heinrich Böll short story who greets his employees each morning with the exhortation “Let’s have some action.” To which the workers obediently reply: “Action will be taken!”…
    How does activist anti-intellectualism manifest on the ground? One instance is the reduction of strategy to mere tactics, to horrible effect. Take for example the largely failed San Francisco protest against the National Association of Broadcasters, an action that ended up costing tens of thousands of dollars, gained almost no attention, had no impact on the NAB and nearly ruined one of the sponsoring organizations. During a postmortem discussion of this debacle one of the organizers reminded her audience that: “We had 3,000 people marching through [the shopping district] Union Square protesting the media. That’s amazing. It had never happened before.” Never mind the utter non-impact of this aimless march. The point was clear: We marched for ourselves. We were our own targets. Activism made us good…
    The antiwar “movement” is perhaps the most egregious recent example of a promising political phenomenon that was badly damaged by the anti-intellectual outlook of activistism. While activists frequently comment on the success of the growing peace movement—many actions take place, conferences are planned, new people become activists—no one seems to notice that it’s no longer clear what war we’re protesting. Repression at home? Future wars in Somalia? Even in the case of Afghanistan, it turned out to be important to have something to say to skeptics who asked: “What’s your alternative? I think the government should protect me from terrorists, and plus this Taliban doesn’t seem so great.” The movement failed to address such questions, and protests dwindled.

    I’m not going to comment on the various innanities in Juan Cole’s post except for the one you specifically point out:

    “Although I do not believe that everyone who advocates a war must go and fight it, I do believe that young men who advocate a war must go and fight it.”

    Although, he may believe this but he offers no reason to do so. How about, “Although I do not believe that everyone who advocates garbage collection must go out and do it, I do believe that young men who…”

    More generally, those of us who advocate this war believe that we all benefit from it. It would only makes sense for us to have a special obligation if we believed we were the unique beneficiaries of this conflict. If we believe that the whole country benefits then we would believe that it is up to the country to fight it.

    And, FYI, we have a volunteer army.

    And, Robert, yes I am a neocon. I’m not sure what point you are making with respect to that belief…

  7. One more for Josh:

    But blockading city streets and rankling your own political allies is one of the more ridiculous ways a person can spend time and energy. Truly, there are better and more productive ways to get therapy. A grown-up discussion is oxygen for a healthy democracy. But our democracy does not need, and has no use for, losers who pointlessly lash out in anger at their own community.


  8. hey alex says:

    stop quoting glenn reynolds at me. you’re not making any points.


    “More generally, those of us who advocate this war believe that we all benefit from it. It would only makes sense for us to have a special obligation if we believed we were the unique beneficiaries of this conflict. If we believe that the whole country benefits then we would believe that it is up to the country to fight it. And, FYI, we have a volunteer army.”

    dude, i cannot even believe that you still didn’t answer the core issue of my post. there is a serious, serious difference between people who claim war is the only option and people who claim that there are other options to be considered. if war is the only option, why the hell didn’t you enlist? i myself did not enlist because i though that the war had a totally bullshit rationale- which it did, alex, which it did! no WMDs, and no sunni presence in the new iraqi government, which WILL continue to cause civil war. you better believe it, buddy.

    say it: “i did not enlist because i am a coward, even though i thought fighting was necessary.” just say it and i’ll leave you be.

  9. hey alex says:

    “And, FYI, we have a volunteer army.”

    which means, of course, that you believe the war is important enough for others to fight, but not important enough to fight yourself. just think about that one, alex.

    sounds to me like you hate freedom.

  10. hey alex says:

    and here’s my last comment about this. when is a war worth fighting? when it’s worth losing my own life of the lives of my children to fight it.

    there should be no other standard, none at all.

  11. Uhm, Josh, perhaps you should actually read my comments… where am I quoting Glenn Reynolds?

    On your point. I think it is important to fight fires, but I do not intend to join the Fire Department. I think it is important to fight crime, but I don’t intend to join the Police Department.

    “and here’s my last comment about this. when is a war worth fighting? when it’s worth losing my own life of the lives of my children to fight it”

    Ok. When is it worth allowing the the children the Kurds and Shiites in Iraq, Tutsis in Rwanda, Kosovars in Albania, Christians in Sudan, etc to lose their lives? And how do you handle the choice between small war now or bigger war later?

  12. “When is it worth allowing the the children the Kurds and Shiites in Iraq, Tutsis in Rwanda, Kosovars in Albania, Christians in Sudan, etc to lose their lives? And how do you handle the choice between small war now or bigger war later?”

    so what you’re saying is that the children of the kurds and shiites and tutsis and kosovars and christians and etc are more valuable than the children of your fellow americans.

    alex, you are a hypocrite. go to fucking iraq. sign up right now. do it. and i will take back every single bad thing i’ve said about you in this regard, because it will no longer be true.

    you and jonah goldberg and glenn fucking ‘tech central station’ reynolds and all of the other ass-dimpling chickenhawks who have agitated for the death of your fellow man’s children because you were too goddamn chicken to go and fight for what you believe is right.

    go look in the mirror. was it worth the death of the ‘volunteer’ army to achieve some kind of platonic sense of freedom and accomplishment on your part? hell no.


    i do not use this word lightly here. you cannot apply it to me. i do not believe that we have any business sending our children to the mideast. none at all. but you do. you do, and you think it’s important enough to kill your neighbor’s kids, but NOT YOUR OWN.

    go to iraq. sign up right now. you’re still young enough. i will support your actions utterly. i will help raise money so you have decent supplies and armor in your outfit. i’ll put a ‘support the troops’ bumper sticker on my car, proudly, and i will sing the praises of the men in iraq because THEY ARE MY FRIENDS who CHOSE TO RISK THEIR LIVES FOR WHAT THEY BELIEVE IN.

    what, you’re not going? got more haskell code to write? another accelerating change conference to kibbitz at?


  13. oh, and you don’t think that imminent fires or rampant street crime is the greatest threat to the united states and freedom in general. that’s why i’m not calling you a chickenshit for not joining the fucking FIRE DEPARTMENT. jesus christ.

  14. “More generally, those of us who advocate this war believe that we all benefit from it. It would only makes sense for us to have a special obligation if we believed we were the unique beneficiaries of this conflict. If we believe that the whole country benefits then we would believe that it is up to the country to fight it.”

    reading this again, this is fucking INSANE.

    ‘fighting it’ means dying. and losing limbs. and going insane from the battle experience. it’s not an intellectual idea, this is blood and pain and destruction and an inability to care for your family if you are killed or wounded.

    it’s up to YOU, alex. YOU believe in it. most of the kids in iraq only joined up because they had no other choice socioeconomically.

    go to war. make me proud to have a friend who acts on his beliefs, instead of armchair-puditing his way into oblivion.

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